Robert Sarver isn’t selling Suns because of cancel culture


Why do rich people want to own NBA teams in the first place? Maybe the answer is obvious to you; in my experience, when people say they want wealth, what they really want is to be above reproach. They would love nothing more than to have direct power over another person and for that person to be in a compromising position for as long as possible. They want to walk into a nightclub and offer the manager an unholy amount of money for a private table and a bottle service girl. They want to buy the thing that’s not for sale. These are the people who love the idea that everything has a price, be it women, experiences, or in specific cases, the ability to subjugate the biggest, strongest and most handsome men in the world.

Enter Robert Sarver.

In my 12 years of playing professional basketball around the world, I never played for Sarver. But I’m sure I played for men like him. The best version of Sarver, the one who is defended by friends and colleagues like Warriors coach Steve Kerr , is probably a boss who, when times are fun, they are very fun. I can all but guarantee there are some players who feel about Sarver like I did when I played for great owners — who loved the spirit an unconventional leader can bring.

But, as ESPN and the NBA detailed in their investigations, that wasn’t the takeaway most folks within the Phoenix Suns building had. For many of them, Sarver was a misogynistic, racially insensitive (at best) asshole who, by most accounts, loved subjugating people for his own pleasure. There’s a difference between an owner wanting to fly his players to Cabo and an owner who says his players should get local strippers pregnant, the latter of which Sarver allegedly did. There’s certainly a difference between a guy who just wants to share Thanksgiving dinner and a guy who pantsed his employees in public for his own amusement.

Despite all his wealth, all his power, Sarver was the quintessential rich guy desperate for validation. It wasn’t enough to be married to a beautiful woman; he had to share inappropriate photos of his wife with Suns staff. That type of wealth wants people to know he f—ks. A lot. You should tell him how hot his wife is; he wants to know. He wants you to know that when he was single you should have seen who he slept with. There were so many. So many very hot people.

All you can give someone that wealthy and powerful is a thin, fake laugh and smile, hoping that satiates the storyteller’s need for reaction. You would never let it slide from anyone else.

Sarver was worse than that, too. He reportedly asked a woman working for the Suns if he “owned” her. He created an environment where women’s sexual histories were often discussed openly. Appearance mattered, and pregnant women needed to go home and not be seen. (Most of these details are from the original ESPN investigation and were corroborated by an NBA-appointed law firm.)

Subjugating only staff wasn’t even enough for Sarver. From ESPN:

“He was constantly meddling and trying to coach himself or go into the coaches’ office and start drawing X’s and O’s on the board at halftime and tell them they need to do this, they need to do that.”

Something about wanting to be rich and actually getting it makes these people think they can solve anything, and quickly. Few things anger a man like Sarver more than a problem that can’t be fixed right away — and usually it’s those around them that bear the brunt of this anger. For Sarver’s staff, that reportedly made for high-pressure situations that left many of them feeling burned out, insulted, or even enduring conduct that was straight up racist.

For example, when Sarver pops into locker room at half time to ask why Draymond Green can say “nigger” but he can’t — yes, this really happened — he’s both looking for a quick fix to an issue and doing it in a racist way. The issue that day was that one of his players received a technical for saying “nigga.” His business genius solution? Let everyone say it. Only in Sarver’s world does this logic make sense, because in Sarver’s world, anything can be changed , moved or fixed, because he’s got the kind of money that always solves these sorts of issues. The problem is Sarver just clearly could not adjust his logic when it applied to people. And in an NBA locker room, where many of the decision- makers (including players) are Black, Sarver’s conduct takes on a much uglier connotation.

Sarver issued a lame apology for all this, saying that “words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together.” If it sounds ridiculous to you to boil years of dominance and bullying down to a poor choice of “words,” then listen to the NBA’s conclusion of its investigation:

“The investigation made no finding that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”

Please. I bet Sarver read that line and yelled “THANK YOU” to himself. It’s true that Sarver had a constant need to dominate everyone all the time, and that’s not inherently racist. But the NBA’s conclusion ridiculously backs up his “words”- based apology, when the words were never the issue.

Actions that dehumanize another group for one’s personal gain may not be inherently racist or sexist, but they most certainly end up becoming that way regardless of intent. I wish the NBA could say that.

In the end, Sarver “lost.” He’s going to sell the team — but he’ll walk away billions of dollars wealthier. So did he learn his lesson? I’m unsure. I do believe, though, that he truly didn’t t want to sell and that the money isn’t the important factor for him. I don’t think he’s selling because he doesn’t want to be a distraction. I also don’t think he’s selling because of public pressure, and by the way, it’s outrageous that it falls on athletes to be the ones to apply this pressure. I think he’s selling because he would rather get out of the business entirely than change at all.

He didn’t buy the teams in the first place to round out his investment portfolio. He most likely wanted a space that gave him social clout, access to the most famous and interesting men in the world, and a chance to run a business that would be considered fun. But now those things, by his definition, can’t continue with the changes the NBA has asked for. So selling the teams is the easy way out. If Sarver, or anyone else looking to buy an NBA team, thinks that it’s going to be a big party, they may well be right. But if they can’t be people of high moral fiber, respect the players, coaches and staff, and just want to say they “own” something, then they can kick rocks like Sarver did. Good riddance.



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